Click Fraud On Google Shopping? - CPC Strategy

Does click fraud on Google Shopping exist? What does Google do to stop it? How can we know as marketers or business owners when the clicks on our Google Shopping products are legitimate?

The question has arisen before, and at CPC Strategy we’ve seen many cases of click fraud or click spikes on various comparison shopping engines, but there is not too much explanation of how shopping engines that merchants pay to list their products on deal with these instances.

Since we’re diligent, we’re often able to work with our merchant partners and the comparison shopping engines to give our merchants a refund, but there has to be hundreds of click fraud cases that go unnoticed by advertisers each year.

Photo Credit: Steve Rhodes

Oftentimes we are assured that they are handled automatically and ethically by the shopping channel, and that the merchant is always taken care of, but of course that would be the answer shopping engines give, right?

So what’s the real truth?

Another reader on my Search Engine Watch article from earlier this year reminded me of the issue and inspired me to write this article:

OH ~ And dont forget the worst thing about PPC : I could sit here for just one hour and click on competitors ads until their daily limits are spent, then their ads disappear from the shopping search for the day. I wonder how many are doing this to me ? My daily limit of $ 20 a day gets clicked out in a matter of hours, and then none of my 3,000 products show up for the rest of the day in the new Google Product model. I wonder what big box stores do to competitors? Do they click me out?

- greatvintagejewelry.com, SearchEngineWatch.com

So could click fraud be as rampant as some make it seem? Surely it’s not that easy to abuse as the seller above makes it seem, right?

Well, it appears so, but it’s hard to tell for sure. What we do know is that there are click legitimacy guidelines (I would love if someone more technical than me could break that 30 page document into layman’s terms, it’s a shame that so many legal guidelines are not consumer or merchant friendly. It damages the trust that the document itself is trying to build between different parties.) that have been created in order to protect advertisers using CPC programs, and there are all sorts of ways within the guidelines where clicks are discredited when multiple clicks are made within the same browsing session.

But what if someone a little more sophisticated wanted to mess with click stream data? It seems that a competent hacker would not have much trouble devising a plan to hurt a merchant of choice through clicks. I literally have no knowledge about click hacking but I did land on this scary looking product the other day and I’m sure there are similar more formidable products out there that help hackers to click on products and appear legitimate.

So where is the police, and how are perpetrators held accountable?

Unfortunately the answer today is that you are the police. You are responsible for catching instances of click fraud on your account and mounting cases against publishers for sending and charging for unqualified traffic. Publishers like Google Shopping and other shopping engines do do some policing, but to what extent is unclear. This in itself presents a problem to the industry, as without a central body responsible for making progress to improve the quality of clicks online, we are all weaker by having to find and prove when and where click fraud occurs.

On top of that it’s hard to know what exactly click fraud is when we cannot see it happen in real time.

It is easy to see and make a case against click fraud when:

1. Clicks are bundled disproportionately to a product or handful of products, which lets us easily see the before click data and CPC bid and compare it against when the fraud occurred. In these instances presenting the information to your Account Manager at the shopping engine or publisher site usually gets a quick resolution.

2. A disproportionate amount of clicks across the entire campaign occurs without any adjustment to CPC bids. This is a little harder, and more rare to find, but it’s a similar instance as in number 1 and can be resolved fairly quickly.

It is hard to see and make a case against click fraud when:

Clicks rise gradually across a campaign. Adding $100 or $200 in click costs per week to a particular campaign for advertisers spending $2,000 – $10,000 per week or per month or more makes it difficult to see when the click fraud began and what the source is. There are also so many other factors at play, such as the CPC bids of your competitors, the product prices of your competitors, and merchant reviews, that make instances where click fraud like this occurs nearly impossibly to track.

So how do you prevent click fraud?

This is the part of the article that I need a lot of help on. From readers, from advertisers, from publishers. There’s almost no information out there about how to prevent click fraud, but there sure is tons of  forum threads and information affirming that it’s easy to do. AdWatcher.com, mentioned in the previous Powerpoint presentation, appears to be one service that helped save a retailer from click fraud in the past. It’s hard to determine whether or not a service like this would be relevant to you though, and I have nothing besides that Powerpoint presentation to confirm or deny the validity or value of their service.

Note: Even though click fraud occurs, for the most part, our merchants have consistent campaigns that improve in performance over time, and instances of click fraud, to our knowledge, are only seen in specific instances and can be remedied quickly. But that is only what we can see using comparison shopping tracking pixels alongside other analytics platforms such as Google Analytics. 

Entrepreneur.com posted a decent article on how to prevent click fraud, but some of their tips, like lowering CPC bids to lower risk, also hurt your campaigns by limiting their total potential exposure to quality shopper and conversions.

Google has a few resources on click fraud and they do proactively help prevent and re-credit advertisers who are victims to click fraud, but just like other publishers, they’re not perfect and a sophisticated hacker could probably get around their safeguards.

Do you work at a shopping engine and help prevent click fraud? Are you a part of a 3rd party company that has a service that helps publishers and advertisers prevent click fraud? Are you an advertiser that has dealt with click fraud before? What’s your story? Can you do anything to prevent click fraud and what can we do to create a more ethical environment for quality clicks? Post your thoughts in the comments, we want to hear from you.

Also, if you’re from a shopping engine and would like me to add your policy on click fraud to the links below, please leave a comment with the link or send it directly to andrew@cpcstrategy.com and I’ll add it.

More info:

Discrepancies Between Google Analytics and Other Analytics Providers

Discrepancies Between Google Analytics and Google Adwords Click Data

A Click Fraud Story from Adam Buchanan in April 2012

Shopping.com’s Click Fraud Policy

How Search Engines Manage Click Fraud – WebProNews

About the Author+Andrew Davis is CPC Strategy's Director of Marketing, an expert in ecommerce marketing strategy, product marketing and all things shopping engine related. You can contact Andrew directly at andrew@cpcstrategy.com or via phone at 619-297-3798. See all posts by this author here.